+Bishop Jon V. Anderson
Like you, we were not aware this new position of the State Dept. of Health was coming last week, Friday, June 5th. The meeting on the previous Tuesday where the state shared information in the past did not happen this week after the African American Clergy called for a silent march of Minnesota clergy.
Here are some thoughts about the question, “Now what?”
We are learning to live with this virus while reducing risks for the sake of our neighbors. Our neighbors with risk factors and our communities will be impacted by our choices. We are called to love and worship God as we have been doing in public worship (online and outside) and through our lives lived out in our many callings. We are also called to love our neighbors. Our care in this work is driven by that love.
The defined phases imagined in the original CDC documents have become blurry. Some states are having very different experiences than other states. Some counties are having very different experiences than other counties. We are now seeing leaders balance preventing transmission and supporting the need to open economic activity.
Each of your contexts are unique.
Outside worship and other gathering continues to seem better than inside worship because of air exchange. Duration matters. Spacing between people matters. Masks, while controversial, seem to reduce the odds of making others ill if we happen to be asymptomatic or pre-symptomatic. Staying home if we don’t feel right or have symptoms will be important.
Online Worship – First, many congregations will continue to find it best in their situation to continue having worship online alone at this time. For some it will be to buy time to plan for face to face services. For others it will be a mid-term or longer-term strategy as we learn more about how the virus will impact us in the coming weeks as the state relaxes restrictions of many kinds. For others, given the risk factors for the pastors, it will be their ongoing strategy until we have better treatments or a vaccine.
Even if worship starts to happen in your congregation face to face or in drive in forms, I encourage people to offer online worship of some kind for those who cannot attend because of risk factors. I would ask that we not leave our neighbors with risk factors behind, but rather find ways to plan so they continue to be part of our worship and congregational life. Simultaneous live streaming is the least energy intense. Hybrid council/committee and faith formation approaches will be important as well. If some people meet face to face, plan to include others online or on conference calls.
Drive In Worship – Some have or will move into drive in or outside services. More of our congregations are exploring and appreciating drive in worship. FM Transmitters are used in most places to make this possible. During this summer season, this seems to be the safest option after online worship because we are contained in our cars.
Face to Face Outdoor Worship Experiences – Larger Group – Some have gathered to worship with physical distancing between households who bring their own chairs. If I was leading a service like this, I think I would put down distance markers (like white paint lines) to help people stay aware of appropriate physical distance. If the weather is bad with rain or threatened weather issues, it is important to have clarity about what happens then. Having an amplification system will be important if you get larger.
Outside, the guidance number stayed at 250 with physical distancing.
Face to Face Outside or Inside Small Group Experience Strategy – Some are planning to or have begun to have worship outside or inside in smaller groups. I find this attractive. In pole barns there would be cover and room to space out. Garages are also places that can be open and covered.
Face to Face Indoor Worship – Some will start having small group worship gatherings inside or already have been. This has been done in the sanctuary with folks spread out in pews, or in front of large sanctuaries where there is a lot of space. It has also been done in fellowship halls because it is easier to physically distance there in their cases. Duration of your service will be important. Shorter services will be wise. Cleaning bathrooms will be important. Physical distancing your sinks is a detail to not forget. Multiple services will require multiple cleanings of the worship space.
Process Thoughts –
The fact that we can do something does not mean that we must do something. Anyone who is over 65 or carry serious risk factors, please do not attend worship or other gatherings of groups that put you at risk.
If your pastor or congregational staff members are at risk, I would ask you to make reasonable accommodations to protect your staff, minister and or pastor.
It will help everyone if people know you are working on the next steps for your congregation and sharing the council’s discernment and process forward. There will be less anxiety.
We (your synod staff, congregational leaders, your worship team, your COVID-19 Team and pastor) need to reserve the right to listen, learn and change our minds during this.
Keep learning and adjusting.
- When 511 Epidemiologists Expect to Fly, Hug and Do 18 Other Everyday Activities Again, The New York Times.
- There’s no reopen template so the advice is: Follow the 4 C’s.
Avoid contact, confinement and crowds. And make realistic choices, StarTribune
- How to Maintain Social Distance as the U.S. Reopens, The New Yorker
- COVID-19: Straight Answers from Top Epidemiologist Who Predicted the Pandemic, Blue Zones
(Dr. Michael Osterholm interview)
If you are surprised by the swiftness of the state’s increasing of possible percentages for inside worship, remember that you can still go slow, steadily, and carefully move forward with care.
Some were planning to take the step of moving to 25% in the coming weeks or months. if you have planned for that and want to, do just that. Learn to do that percentage, then step toward higher percentages. Staged layers of greater numbers will give you time to enter this season well.
Not all people in congregations nor pastors will all agree. You will not get it perfect. Take your time and move intentionally to increase the odds you reduce the risks for those who lead and participate, while we are living with the virus.
Don’t get stuck in the state’s percentages. Go forward at the pace that fits your situation and decisions. We can create our own percentages – This week 10% – then 25% – then 35% etc., evaluating as we move forward. If we are below the state’s guidance and have solid plans, we can amp up the percentages or numbers for inside worship when we think that is appropriate for our community of faith.
If we decide to do something new, planning and practice will also help that go more smoothly.
Finally, have a conversation about what might cause you to stop having worship face to face. This may be a long and challenging journey. If the virus starts to take off locally or in the state and ICU beds are close to being overwhelmed for everyone’s sake we may have to change back to online or safer forms of worship.
We are learning to live with this virus while reducing risks for the sake of our neighbors.